While following the various NCAA conference championships in preparation for March Madness, I noticed how many of the NCAA conferences are "big." Six conferences make this claim: the Big East, the Big West, the Big South, the Big Ten, the Big Twelve, and the Big Sky. My question is, "What really makes them so big?"
I will begin my examination with the Big Sky conference. This conference can legitimately claim the word "big," but only if they include the reference to the sky. The sky is rather big out there on the plains where these schools are located. They did not invent the name "Big Sky." They just borrowed it. They are not the only ones to use the title "Big Sky." Big Sky Airlines operates out of Montana. Big Sky Ski Resort is located in Big Sky, Montana. Then there's the 1950's Kirk Douglas movie "The Big Sky." The Big Sky Conference is not trying to tell us how large or how great they are. They are just trying to tell us from whence they come. That's fair.
However, this isn't really the case with all the conferences pointing to "big" points on the compass. Where exactly is Big West, Big East, and Big South? Do you have to find Big Magnetic North with your Big Compass and then divide the dial into Big ninety-degree angles?
What makes the Big South so big? There are a number of NCAA conferences that connect themselves with the southern United States. The SEC, the Southern, the SWAC, and even the Southland conferences all have more members than the Big South. Likewise, the Big West is not any larger than the West Coast conference and just slightly smaller, in terms of member colleges, than the Western Athletic Conference. On the other hand, the Big East is bigger than the other conferences in the east. They deserve their name. It seems natural. Imagine some guys talking about these conferences long ago before they ever had names . . .
One fellow says, "How 'bout that athletic conference out east?"
"Which one?" his friend replies, "There's five or six of 'em."
"Oh, you know," says the first guy, "That big one out east with all them schools."
"Oh yeah," says the first fellow, "How 'bout that. They sure are big."
This conversation makes sense. The name Big East sticks. But it doesn't work where the other conferences are concerned. Let's drop in again on the conversation . . .
"How 'bout that athletic conference down south?"
"Which one? There's 'bout five or six of them."
"Oh, you know, the big one."
"You mean, one of the three big enough to have a north and south division?"
"No, not those! The other one. The big one - in the south."
"You mean one of them with schools in Texas? Texas is a big state in the south."
"No, no! Not those! This one don't have no schools in Texas. I mean the big one! The one that has that school Jerry Falwell runs. They got a champion Quiz Bowl team."
"What are you talking about? That conference ain't big at all."
Now when it comes to the Big Ten and Big Twelve, my literal-brained fussiness says that Twelve is bigger than Ten. But I could see where a Ten could be big as far as Ten's go. So perhaps they should change their name to the Relatively Big Ten Conference. Or if they insist on sticking with Big Ten, then I would think that the Big Twelve would need to change their name to the Bigger Twelve Conference.
But what makes the Big Twelve so big? There are plenty of conferences with twelve schools. Likewise with ten-school conferences. If the Big Twelve is big then are we to assume that the Conference USA could be the Little Twelve or the Medium-Sized Twelve? Should we rename the Missouri Valley as the Average-Sized Ten or the Petite Ten?
I hope you see the problem. Some have thrown the adjective "big" around too freely. But what's stopping anyone? If your conference has ten or twelve schools then you've missed out. You weren't the first to claim "bigness." But if your conference calculates a different member total then get with it! The Sun Belt and Horizon Conferences should pay attention here and rename themselves the Big Thirteen and the Big Nine. No one but me is counting, so you can be as big as you like.